Last night, just weeks shy of the three-year anniversary of Whitney Houston’s death, Lifetime Network aired the highly anticipated biopic that attempted to illustrate a very tumultuous period in the iconic singer’s life.
I have to admit, although the network had just released the poorly executed Aaliyah biopic, I had reasons for high hopes regarding this film. This made-for-TV production was directed by Angela Bassett — a black female actress and friend of Houston. Unlike the Aaliyah biopic, this production had rights to some of Whitney’s hit songs. However, after seeing the biopic, my opinions on the film are mixed.
The film could have easily been called Whitney and Bobby. Yaya DaCosta, of America’s Next Top Model, portrayed Houston, and Arlen Escarpeta played her less-polished husband, Bobby Brown. The film focused on roughly a five-year span of her career and the years in which she and Brown fell in love.
Capturing the essence of such a world-renowned star’s life is a tall order. But aside from the scenes when DaCosta shimmied down the crowded basement hallways — in her multi-colored sequin cropped jackets and high-waist slacks — and onto the stage of several performances, Whitney Houston didn’t really seem to be in this movie. This is not a swipe at Yaya; it’s just that Whitney was such a dynamic figure that there is probably not a soul in Hollywood who can convincingly embody her.
However, the best portrayal of Whitney in the film came from R&B singer Deborah Cox. She provided the vocals to the only four featured Houston songs. Not too many singers can touch Whitney’s vocal prowess, but Cox’s performance came pretty close. But Deborah’s powerhouse voice juxtaposed with Yaya’s less than convincing lip synching left me longing for the real deal.
Then there was the overly fluffed relationship with Brown, doused with too many corny love scenes and cheesy one-liners. It was clear that Bassett’s aim was to show the world a different side of their relationship. But this attempt to make Houston and Brown into a more digestible love story seemed forced. After a while, I began to wonder if the film’s effort to paint Brown as a wonderful upstanding man came at the expense of delving into all of the things that made Whitney Houston who she was outside of their relationship.
Perhaps this one-dimensional portrait of Houston has something to do with the fact that those who knew her best weren’t involved. None of her family members were contacted during the development of the film, and they were not asked to view the film prior to its broadcast. Basset said that she made this film based off of what she learned directly from Whitney as co-stars in the film Waiting To Exhale, by reading Cissy Houston’s book, and through information she found on the internet.
A day before the broadcast, Whitney’s family released an official statement saying,“If you watch this movie, watch it knowing that Lifetime is notorious for making bad biopics of deceased celebrities and brace yourself for the worst.” Whether you agree with the family or not, you have to understand how difficult this must have been for them, especially when they are still mourning the loss of their daughter, sister and mother.
To be fair to Lifetime, the cast, crew and the director of this film, I’m not sure if it is possible to do a biopic as important as this justice. Whitney represented so many things to so many people. I am happy that after the film aired, and after Shaun Robinson’s one-hour interview with Bobby Brown, Lifetime decided to treat us to Whitney Houston Live: Her Greatest Performances. This allowed us to remember Whitney the way she would have wanted us to: as herself.